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Fourteen of the state’s 15 law campuses posted increases in the rate of successful first-time candidates for the New York state bar examination in July. Due to especially dramatic increases at Touro Law Center and City University of New York School of Law – for several consecutive years the two lowest-scoring schools – Hofstra University School of Law shifted from a 12th place ranking in 2005 to last place this year, despite a two-point rise in its ratio of successful first-time exam-takers. Improvement was particularly sweet in the case of CUNY Law, which four years ago saw half of its students failing the exam – causing political difficulties for former Dean Kristin Booth Glen, elected last year to the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court. As dean, Judge Glen faced criticism from the CUNY chancellor and derogatory articles in the New York Post, which at one point published an editorial advocating closure of the school. But this year’s 77 percent pass rate, while still below the state average, is the highest in the history of CUNY Law, which opened its doors in 1983. Only two schools fell below the state average pass rate of 79 percent – Hofstra Law by six points and CUNY Law by two points. In the four years preceding, as many as seven campuses fell below state averages that fluctuated in the mid-70 percentile. This year’s improved pass rates included a four point boost for the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, to 90 percent from last year’s 86 percent; 10-point increases at Albany Law School and New York Law School, to 88 percent from 78 percent and to 84 percent from 74 percent, respectively; and an eight-point rise at Syracuse University College of Law, to 81 percent from 73 percent. Smaller gains were made at St. John’s University School of Law (91 percent from 89 percent), Fordham University School of Law (90 percent from 88 percent), University at Buffalo Law School (82 percent from 80 percent), and Brooklyn Law School (85 percent from 84 percent). The only campus to have gone down in its pass rate was Cornell Law School. Last year, the Ithaca campus placed first among the 15 law schools at 95 percent. This year, Cornell Law dropped to 93 percent. Meanwhile, Cornell Law’s two rivals among the traditional top three schools – Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law – each rose a few points over last year to 95 percent. Enhanced calculations showed that Columbia Law nosed out NYU Law for first place by one-hundredth of 1 percent – 95.28 versus 95.27. Stepped up efforts at both Touro Law and CUNY Law to help its students prepare for what is generally regarded as the nation’s toughest bar exam – made even tougher by last year’s five-point rise in the minimum passing score, to 665 out of a possible 1,000 – were credited by their respective deans for improving the schools’ pass rates, and thus marketing efforts in attracting future classes and faculty members. The state average of all first-time exam takers increased by three points, to 79 percent from last year’s 76 percent. Two campuses in the middle rankings saw double-digit progress matched to stronger emphasis on bar exam preparation. Pace Law School in White Plains posted a pass rate of 83 percent this year, 12 points over last year’s 71 percent, while Albany Law increased its score by 10 points, from 78 percent to 88 percent. Undoubtedly, the person most pleased by CUNY Law’s finally moving out of the cellar of the rankings was Judge Glen, who had developed several long-term programs in recruiting and training while dean. Her efforts were meant to accomplish exactly what is reflected by this year’s first-time exam-takers from the Flushing, Queens, campus, routinely measured as the nation’s most mixed in terms of socio-economic class, ethnicity, race and citizenship status. “Our balancing act was to assure that the applicants we admitted could be successful in taking the bar exam, while at the same time maintaining our tradition of diversity,” said Judge Glen. This year’s class, she added, “was as diverse as any we’ve ever had.” Michelle J. Anderson, successor to Judge Glen as dean of CUNY Law, expressed a cautionary note. “We’re not declaring victory; we’re declaring positive progress,” she said, “We’re all pleased, but everybody would like to see the same thing – consistent meeting of the state average, or exceeding it. We’re not there yet.” CUNY, Touro efforts Ms. Anderson said a “combination of things” had boosted CUNY Law’s pass rate, including the selection of students with higher LSAT and GPA scores, requirement of a minimum 2.3 GPA to maintain academic standing, bar exam study courses beginning in the first year of study with especially intensive courses in the third year, along with increased academic support and counseling. In addition, she said, CUNY Law has begun a new program of grants and scholarships for students who have reached maximum status on loans and would have to subtract time from studying for the bar in order to earn a living. Such extra financial help would be concentrated in the bar preparation periods in May, June and July “so that students don’t have to worry where the next rent check is coming from,” said Ms. Anderson. Likewise, Dean Lawrence Rafel at Touro Law said his students in Central Islip, Long Island, were beneficiaries of the faculty’s academic support committee, which created two additional bar preparation courses, as well as a new program for “at-risk” students, who were given individual attention by a panel of three professors. Substantial improvement at Albany Law, said Dean Thomas F. Guernsey, was due to smaller classes that developed when he reduced the student population in 2003 from 850 to a cap of 640, and to a bar exam prep course administered by Professor Kathe Klare. The voluntary course is known by the acronym BEAT – Bar Exam Accelerated Training – and doubled in attendance during the past two years. “The BEAT program focuses on test-taking skills, feedback on practice exams [and] review of substantive material in subjects tested” on the multi-state segment of the New York exam, said Mr. Guernsey. “It’s making a difference.” Michelle Simon, associate dean for academic affairs at Pace Law, was part of a special faculty task force created last year that implemented a mandatory day-long bar exam orientation program for students. She said of the students, “A lot of them just didn’t realize the time and energy required to adequately prepare for the exam. We counseled them on planning ahead, getting comfortable enough economically so they could take off from work” and choosing more courses related to practice areas most represented by bar exam questions. Non-credit courses that deal specifically with bar exam preparation, she said, could now earn credits for students under rule changes by the American Bar Association. The issue of an increased cut score for the bar exam – vociferously opposed by all 15 law school deans and all major and specialty bar associations in the state – remains controversial, as does the New York state bar exam itself. “I do not concede that the bar exam is an adequate or appropriate measure of a person’s ability to practice law,” said Judge Glen. Last year’s boost in the exam’s cut score was to be one of three five-point increases, to a final minimum of 675 points out of a possible 1,000. Due to objections from campuses and bar groups, the New York State Board of Law Examiners in Albany delayed the second and third stages of increase until its five members could study a report on the effects of raising the passing standard – especially regarding the impact on minority candidates. That report, a 155-page document prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, was issued last month. It showed substantial and disparate impact on blacks, Latinos and Asians. Among the reports findings were that half this year’s black candidates would have failed July’s exam if the cut score was fully raised to 675. Diane F. Bosse, chairwoman of the state law board, said she and her fellow board members were reluctant to raise the cut score beyond the current 665. “We are on hold,” said Ms. Bosse, a partner in Buffalo’s Volganau & Bosse. “We have not made any decisions about either the increase or the process for getting there. We are not rushing to increase the score.” Mary C. Daly, dean of St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, while pleased that her school increased its pass rate to 91 percent over last year’s 89 percent, noted that two and three-point changes in either direction are statistically irrelevant. “If I could figure out a recipe for this,” she said, “I’d write a book and make a million.” Thomas Adcock can be reached at [email protected]

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